Christian Benedict Roaquin's Graduation Speech

We are here because our communities need us, our countries need us, the world needs more people like us.

Distinguished guests, Uncle Eddie Ruska of the Centre for Aboriginal Independence and Enterprise, Mr Derek Brown of the Queensland State Office, Ms Shannon Willoughby of Study Queensland, other dignitaries, fellow scholars, both graduating and commencing, a warm Brisbane afternoon to you all.

Today marks a special day for all Australia Awards Scholars in Queensland. This is the first state-wide event our commencing scholars will attend as an official welcome to Brisbane, and this is probably the last event the graduating scholars will have before we all finish our studies and go back to our home countries. Let me share to you an experience, where I hope, those graduating can start reminiscing, and those commencing can try to avoid.

Just a little background, I am the outgoing President of FilOz UQ, the Filipino Students' Society of the University of Queensland. As an executive, I was part of the annual Presidents' Camp of the UQ Union, where we went to Moreton Island and did many fun things. Fun facts about me: I can't swim, I don't like animals, and the sun was unforgiving. Yes, it was a perfect day. That night, for fun, we went kayaking. It was such a beautiful experience, seeing all kinds of colourful fish under the transparent kayak, feeling the cool sea breeze in your face, paddling gently under the gibbous moon. Until one fateful moment. It was pitch dark, and we were kayaking into a narrow pass where we heard a thud. We tried paddling away, but all we hit was hard metal. Lo and behold, we discovered, that we were stuck on a shipwreck, 100 meters away from the shore, with no one in sight, where the sound of all shouting faded into the darkness. My heart was pumping out of my chest, not sure if I would still see the light of day or that UQ Union never do the event again because two guys were stuck on a shipwreck while night kayaking. I am speaking to you right now to share to you three things I learned, not only as a survivor of that five-minute misadventure (that felt almost like eternity), but as a colleague, young as I may be, but open to what these bad experiences may teach me.

First, not all things will go smoothly as planned. We went kayaking that night because we thought it would be a fun thing to do. But little did we know the shipwreck mishap was waiting for us. Similarly, we all applied for the Australia Awards Scholarship because we thought it was a noble thing to do. But not everything went smoothly, did it? Some of us may have tried many times before we were finally accepted. And now that we're here, I bet it was hard to leave our families behind, our previous work, our colleagues, our community, the comfort of our home. For the graduating class, oh you bet, this was not a smooth ride at all. Do I need to remind you of all the sleepless nights, mountains of readings, countless hours of group meetings struggling to speak in English - the list goes on. But all of us are here now, my dear commencing and graduating colleagues, because we did it. We took the leap no matter how hard it felt to jump. And we discovered what a great relief it was afterwards. Second lesson? When in doubt, trust your gut. And for the science people here in the room, I don't mean the organs of the digestive system, but the heart and the mind. When we were stuck in the shipwreck with the waves tossing us every moment in pitch darkness, panicking seemed to be the best thing to do. But my gut told me to keep calm, no matter how impossible it seemed to do it. Just like our Australia Awards journey: it will not all be victorious and successful. I believe the graduating class will agree with me on this, that sometimes it is not only homesickness that will bring us down, but by doubting ourselves. Asking, "can I do it?" "can I make it?," "am I really worthy of being called an Australia Awards Scholar?" I am guilty of that. Many times. But I tell you, my dear colleagues, we are here chosen for a purpose. We are here because our communities need us, our countries need us, the world needs more people like us. That whenever we feel self-doubt, let us remind ourselves, our countries believed in us, Australia believed in us. That whatever we do, be it an essay, a business pitch, field experiments, or a laboratory report, do it with pride and joy, with a standard expected of ambassadors like us, creating works that have the potential to change the world. Lastly, and I would like to add emphasis to this: you are not alone. We are not alone. This will probably be the biggest negative thought hanging over our heads at least once here in our journey as students. I take you back to the night kayak misadventure I mentioned earlier, wherein I was stuck with one of my now good mates. After that shipwreck mishap, we came back to the camp site, talked the whole night reminiscing about the "accident," we discovered that we had a lot in common, that we came to really love Brisbane, how we shake our heads at undergrads who do nothing but drink and party, our strong advocacy for international student welfare, and many others. Therefore, I urge you, my dear colleagues, to always keep in touch with our network. Our diverse experiences, work ethic, abilities, and motivations comprise the huge treasure trove of what makes us Australia Awards Scholars.

As we go back to our home countries, for the graduating class, and as you create your mark here in Australia, for the commencing batch, let us all remember that we are not alone in this journey. May all of us become an instrument of inspiration, of resilience, and of excellence to one another. May the success of one be the success of all, and the struggle of one be a concern of all. In the end, what matters more is not that we have reached the finish line, but rather, what we did to reach it, and more importantly, that we are not alone at the end celebrating victory. I would like to end with a quote from my favourite philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, "Hope is a passion for the possible." Hope is a passion for the possible. May all of us, as we embark our academic journey here in Australia or create waves of change in our return home, be hopeful in what our hands, hearts, and minds can do. May we be passionate for what is possible, for what progress can be begun, not only for ourselves, but for our countrymen and the world. That amidst the darkness shrouding the world, may we be the light it needs, lights burning with hope, with passion, that a better world is still possible. Hope is a passion for the possible! Thank you very much and have a good day.